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Hospital capacity strained as COVID-19 transmission remains high

Published: Nov. 28, 2020 at 7:39 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) -Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, “flattening the curve” and other attempts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 have tried not only to save lives but also keep hospitals operating below capacity.

However, given the sustained high transmissions throughout Alaska, the state’s top doctor says that the hospital system is now strained.

“The best way to keep hospital capacity up is to not have a lot of patients who need it. Unfortunately, even with that, and the cases we have now, we see a lot of patients in the hospital and you can see this percent of patients that is there because of COVID is just increasing and increasing and it is really causing strain,” Dr. Anne Zink, chief medical officer for the State of Alaska said.

Although some metrics such as the number of hospital beds may be used to help gauge capacity, Zink says that type of information does not adequately reflect the situation.

“When we talked to the hospitals about, tell us where capacity is at, they will tell you it will change in 30 seconds, and that is so true working in a hospital,” Zink said. “You suddenly get a big car wreck and everything’s different, or a nurse calls out sick who’s supposed to staff a bunch of things and everything is different. And so capacity is a very very fluid and dynamic process that is incredibly hard to capture.”

Rather than viewing capacity as a rigid number, state health leaders described it as being more fluid as hospitals make adjustments to increase capacity. However, as the system gets strained, cracks in the system can become apparent. One example visible now is the way transfers are not able to go through as normal.

“We are starting to run into problems with multiple hospitals being on divert because they are unable to care for patients at that time, so having to transfer to places that are not usual places of transfer, so Bethel transferring to Fairbanks instead of transferring into Anchorage, is becoming an increasing challenge overall,” Zink said.

Zink added that the surge of cases in Seattle is also requiring Alaskan patients to stay in Alaska when they would typically be transferred to Seattle.

Zink says that given the strain on the system, it’s important that people both wear a mask and take other steps to mitigate their risk of catching COVID-19, as well as taking other safety precautions to maintain health and wellness.

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